Thursday, 25 September 2014

Then and Now – A Walk in the Cairns CBD – Part One

Cairns is home to many wonderful heritage buildings in its central business district. A stroll around the CBD provides a glimpse into the city’s rich and diverse history.

Cairns was established in 1876, primarily as a port to service the northern goldfields.  Early industries that supported the development of Cairns included the timber industry and both gold and tin mining. Later, agriculture became an important industry, particularly sugar cane, but bananas and rice were also important early crops.  Tourism was important to the Cairns economy too, even as early as the 1890s.

The Boland Centre
Boland’s, c.1928. State Library of Queensland image

Boland’s, 2014. Image: Trisha Fielding 

This building was built in 1912/13 for Michael Boland, an Irish immigrant who came to Australia in the 1880s and became a successful businessman and prominent citizen in Cairns.  This ornate and striking building occupies the corner of Lake and Spence Streets and is one of the earliest examples in the Cairns region of the use of concrete to construct large buildings.  The three-storey building housed a large department store and continues to be used for commercial purposes today.  It is a rare surviving example of its kind – that is, a large, pre-World War I department store.

Former Adelaide Steamship Co. building
Former Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd, 1976Image: Cairns Historical Society

Former Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd, 2014Image:  Trisha Fielding
This building was built in 1910 for the Adelaide Steamship Company Limited, which had been established in Adelaide in 1875.  The company had established a branch in Cairns around 1905, but was operating as an agency in Cairns as early as 1895.  The Queensland Heritage Register describes the building style as a tropical adaptation of the “Arts and Crafts”, a style that started in Europe.  A local heritage trail brochure describes it as “Spanish Revival Style”.  It was built by Cairns contractors Wilson & Baillie, at a cost of almost £3,000.
The Adelaide Steamship Company’s SS Manunda, entering Cairns Harbour,
Image:  State Library of Queensland.
Office of the Cairns Post newspaper
Cairns Post building, c. 1930Image: State Library of Queensland

Cairns Post Building, 2014.Image:  Trisha Fielding
The history of newspapers is often a bit tricky to chart, and the Cairns Post appears to have gone through a few different incarnations.  The Cairns Post was started in the early 1880s by Frederick Wimble in a small building in Lake Street.  It was later called the Cairns Morning Post and in 1909 it was renamed the Cairns Post.  The building that exists today in Abbott Street was built in 1908 and designed by architect Harvey Draper.  It was originally only the first three bays on the left and was extended to its present size in 1924. 


  1. Hi Trisha. So used to reading your Townsville posts, I was pleasantly surprised to read a Cairns one.

    1. Hi Carol,

      Great to hear from you! Thanks for your comment. I thought it was time I branched out a bit!
      Part two will be up in the next week or so.